In Duff, Publicis N.Y. Finds Mix Of The Old And New

In the past 18 months, Publicis in New York has integrated its Chicago sibling, added key executives and accounts from D’Arcy, and reshaped its management team. Now, one major task remains, said David Droga, Publicis Groupe’s global executive creative director: “forge our own personality.”

A key architect of that new personality will be CEO Gill Duff, whose selection earlier this month rounds out a new leadership team at the agency. The 44-year-old Duff brings the blue-chip client-handling skills and appreciation for high-profile TV advertising associated with BBDO—where he most recently ran the worldwide FedEx account—as well as a drive to move the 250-person shop beyond traditional media advertising.

“Publicis in America, particularly in New York, is quite timid and almost apologetic that it is part of a European-based network,” noted Droga, who’s been on the job 14 months, 10 of those based in New York. “Moving forward, we’re not going to think that’s our trump card, or be shy [about it].” Rather, he wants the agency to be known as “very restless” and “media neutral.”

Duff himself isn’t partial to the term “media neutral,” because it suggests “the absence of something rather than an abundance of something.” He said he prefers to say, “Here’s a brand idea that can live in multiple places” rather than, “Here’s a brand idea that doesn’t have a home.”

“BBDO is famous and known for 30-second spots,” Duff said of his goals. “Publicis needs to be as famous for that—plus all of the other consumer touch points out there.”

Droga can expect his creatives to find a supportive partner in Duff, who most recently helped sell through the “Relax, it’s FedEx” campaign. “He’s a laid-back guy, but he’s very good at selling great work,” said Gerry Graf, executive creative director at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York, who worked with Duff on FedEx. “He helped keep the good stuff on the table. He loves great work, and he’ll do what it takes to sell it.”

Besides FedEx, Duff has worked on a wide range of brands—including Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Kraft, Miller Brewing and Blockbuster—at Young & Rubicam, D’Arcy, Leo Burnett and Foote, Cone & Belding.

When Duff arrives July 1, it will be at an agency that has tripled in size in the past year. Publicis’ French holding-company parent consolidated the agency’s Chicago and New York offices and, with the finalization of its Bcom3 acquisition, integrated D’Arcy’s accounts and key executives into the New York office. Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ Peter Nicholson joined as CCO (after being recruited for the Chicago office), and when Droga moved to New York, he brought former Saatchi London colleagues Howard Willmott and Duncan Marshall as co-executive creative directors. About a dozen creative teams, including staffers from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, TBWA Paris and Cliff Freeman, were added.

The New York office has enjoyed a healthy influx of business. Allied Domecq consolidated all of its North American brands there, and the shop was given lead status on Sanofi-Synthelabo’s Ambien business. The agency also added former D’Arcy clients Heineken, Amstel Light, Ernst & Young and Cadbury.

“This is not a turnaround,” underscored Duff. “This is a takeoff.”

Susan Gianinno, U.S. chairman and CEO of Publicis, said besides Duff’s mandate to “focus on key clients and new-business development,” he will be asked to shore up marketing-services capabilities. Gianinno, who has identified Duff as her potential successor, has served as acting New York CEO since February 2003, when Barry Krause left to run J. Walter Thompson in Chicago.

“We did not want a cookie-cutter office head,” said Gianinno. “We considered a lot of names who are better known, but we were looking for someone who can genuinely do the job.”

Droga, who will focus more on New York after a period spent reshuffling creative leadership in key offices overseas, said he’s “very relieved” to have Duff on the job. “The New York office has gone through change,” he said. “Having someone there with great ambition is a big help.”